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Why are More Women than Men Attracted to the Field of Public Relations?
Analyzing Students' Reasons for Studying PR
J. Rebecca Folmar, MA student
Lois A. Boynton, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
AEJMC Public Relations Division – Teaching Paper Competition
Lois A. Boynton
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
397 Carroll Hall, CB# 3365
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3365
[log in to unmask]
Why are More Women than Men Attracted to the Field of Public Relations?
Analyzing Students' Reasons for Studying PR
This quantitative study explores why more young women than
young men are attracted to the collegiate study of public relations
and choose to join the public relations workforce
professionally. Women's reasons for being attracted to public
relations included: it is a profession for which they feel
well-suited, allowing opportunities for relationship building,
interpersonal communication, and creativity; and it is a broad,
portable career path that allows opportunities for advancement as
well as flexibility for family demands.
While much has been written about male and female
practitioners' disparate experiences in the field of public
relations, few researchers have considered male and female students'
perceptions of and attitudes toward entering the public relations
profession, and more specifically, why young women continue to be
disproportionately attracted to the discipline. A better
understanding of students' reasons for entering the public relations
field is important because such insight could offer educators and
practitioners alike some indication of the profession's
future. Examining the career choices students make is important to
mass communication researchers, educators, and professionals given
that many of today's students are tomorrow's practitioners.
Most research regarding women in public relations focuses on
the inequities that exist between men and women in terms of salary
and status in the professional world, and the implications of gender
discrimination in the public relations profession (e.g., Broom &
Dozier, 1986; Grunig, Toth, & Hon, 2001; Wright & Springstein,
1991). Meanwhile, some research has considered the feminization of
the field as women have become the predominant practitioners of
public relations (e.g., Creedon, 1991; Silver, 1988).
While some research has considered the perceptions women have
of public relations as a career consideration (Krider & Ross, 1997;
Toth & Cline, 1991), and the influence of mentors and role models on
aspiring public relations practitioners (Culbertson, 1985; Rask &
Bailey, 2002), little research has been done on students' perceptions
of and attitudes toward the field of public relations. That is, why
do female students find public relations an attractive career choice,
especially given the troubling realities, like salary discrepancies
between the two sexes and fewer opportunities for advancement for
women, which female public relations professionals continue to
face? Building on the questions left unanswered by the existing
literature, this study explores why more young women than young men
are attracted to the collegiate study of public relations and choose
to join the public relations workforce professionally.
Extensive research has documented gender-based inequities in
salary and status within the field of public relations (e.g., Cline
et al., 1986; Toth & Cline, 1989; Grunig, Toth, & Hon, 2001). Broom
and Dozier's (1986) longitudinal study of 458 PRSA members found that
gender and job role are the primary characteristics that affect
professional advancement. Women tended to work in the low-level
communication technician roles as men advanced into management
positions. A PRSA study conducted by Wright and Springstein (1991)
confirmed Broom and Dozier's (1986) earlier findings that the salary
disparity that exists in public relations "increases as experience
increases" (p. 22). Women were also found to be less optimistic
about the future with their present employers, and perceived a much
greater degree of discrimination than men.
More recent research on practitioner perceptions of job
motivators (Toth & Cline, 1991), roles of female practitioners (Toth
& Grunig, 1993), and gender discrepancies (Aldoory & Toth, 2002; Choi
& Hon, 2002) also show the differences in salary, status, and job
satisfaction men and women experience. Additionally, Krider and Ross
(1997) found that female participants expressed concern for younger
people entering the field who might not be familiar with the
realities of the profession, especially "when roles clash such as
family and work" (p. 447). However, research has not adequately
explained why newcomers to the field, particularly young women, are
attracted to public relations.
The feminization of the field. Evident in extensive research is the
perception that the female majority in public relations "softens" the
image of the field and causes it not to be seen as a legitimate,
management-driven profession. More than 15 years ago, Lesly (1988)
noted that the impact of a largely female field would have such
consequences as lowering professional aspirations because women
wanted to perform technical rather than managerial duties, lowering
income levels because fields that became "female" experienced such
losses, and creating the image of public relations as a soft, rather
than "heavy-hitting top management function" (p. 5). The same
perceptions are held of a number of fields, such as teaching and
social work, in which women do not necessarily outnumber men but find
themselves never achieving "formal, legitimate authority" (Silver,
1988, p. 21; see also Reskin & Roos, 1990). That feminized
perception may still exist in today's public relations. For example,
public relations agency founder Harold Burson told USA Today reporter
Rick Hampton, "Unless more men are attracted to public relations, it
runs the risk of being regarded as a 'woman's job,'" and, "We'll lose
a lot of good men" (Hampson, 2001, p. B6).
Seventeen years ago, Linda R. Silver (1988) speculated that the
reason feminized professions are often seen as "'semi-professions'"
(p. 26) can be attributed to the differing goals male and female
professionals have in regard to relationship management. While male
professionals work to advance themselves through their professional
lives, "using their knowledge to define their clients' needs and
hence to place themselves above" their clients, women professionals
place "primary importance on filling the needs of others" (p.
26). This difference in management style manifests itself in the
perceptions people have of certain professions. Creedon (1991)
considered public relations specifically and "the trivialization and
devaluation of what has come to be called the technician's role where
the majority of women in public relations are employed" (p. 69).
Creedon concluded that public relations professionals and professors
alike need to take a "transformative approach" (p. 79) to teaching
up-and-coming practitioners and students by "re-vision[ing]" (p. 79)
the assumptions society has about roles and work in public relations.
As gender and socialization theorists have suggested, interpersonal
relationships, such as those with role models or mentors, contribute
significantly in developing a gendered identity (Connell, Ashenden,
Kessler, & Dowsett, 1982; Kohlberg, 1966). For example, Culbertson
(1985) found a perceived need to recruit female and minority
educators as mentors and role models for female and minority
students. Rask and Bailey (2002) also found that "the influence of
students preferring professors like themselves is an important aspect
of major choice" (p. 113).
Public relations in the classroom. In their study of public
relations curricula White, Oukrop, and Nelson (1992) suggested that
students might be attracted to the study of public relations because
of its "interdisciplinary broadness that comprises a distinctive
collection of information" (p. 39). Compared to non-public relations
students, public relations students "felt more strongly that being
well-rounded, intelligent, a good oral communicator, and a good
writer [were] necessary for success" (p. 41) in one's major and,
therefore, in one's profession.
In contrast, little research has been conducted examining students'
attitudes toward public relations at the collegiate level. DeRosa and
Wilcox (1989) concluded that men and women choose public relations
for the same reasons, and that many of the gender stereotypes present
in the professional world do not hold true at the collegiate
level. For instance, contrary to what other studies had maintained,
female students were found to be equally interested in managerial
roles as men, and neither gender aspired to the technician level in
order to balance their careers with other demands. Farmer and Waugh
(1999) also concluded that female students are just as interested in
management roles as male students, but female students expected "to
earn less money starting out and to be promoted more slowly than
their male counterparts expect," were "more likely to believe that
they [would] need to postpone having a family in order to advance
their careers," (p. 235) and were more willing to perform both
technical and managerial functions within an organization.
In summary, in comparison to the amount of research that has studied
the gender discrepancy that exists in the professional world and the
implications of this discrepancy, little research has been done on
why young women continue to be attracted to the public relations
field. While some research has considered the perceptions women have
of public relations as a career consideration and the influence of
mentors and role models on aspiring public relations practitioners,
further research is necessary to determine why exactly young women
are attracted more than young men to the collegiate-level study of
public relations and to the field of public relations
professionally. In order to understand why the public relations
field draws female practitioners, this research starts at the
classroom level, seeking to elaborate on why female students find
public relations an attractive career choice, especially given the
troubling realities that female public relations professionals
continue to face.
HYPOTHESES AND METHOD
Based on the findings and discrepancies in the literature
about women in public relations, the following research hypotheses
H1: Female students pursue public relations because they are influenced and
inspired by female role models and mentors.
H2: Female students are attracted to the field of public relations
in part because
they believe that its emphasis on interpersonal
communication naturally fits
their gender roles.
H3: Female students pursue careers in public relations because they
profession as a flexible and accommodating career.
This study used the quantitative method of administering a
survey questionnaire to determine female students' reasons for
pursuing the public relations profession. Under-graduate and graduate
students from universities and colleges across the country who
attended the 2004 National Convention for the Public Relations
Student Society of America comprised the convenience sample of this
study. PRSSA "has more than 8,000 members in 248 chapters on college
campuses across the country" (Golitsinski, 2002), so drawing a sample
from its membership offered sound generalizability.
The sampling frame that was used for the survey was a convenience
sample of 125 male and female PRSSA members 18 or older who attended
the Convention held in New York City on October 22?24, 2004. More
than 1,000 student representatives from PRSSA chapters at schools
across the country attend the National Convention each year,
representing their respective collegiate PRSSA chapters and thereby
their fellow public relations students. Because the sampling frame
offered a diverse group of respondents, it provided a fairly
representative sample of public relations students at the
undergraduate and graduate level. However, it must be noted that not
every university or college in America may have a PRSSA chapter, and
not every PRSSA chapter may have chosen to send representatives to
the 2004 PRSSA National Convention. Potential respondents from
smaller schools, for example, were likely excluded from the study
because they did not have members of PRSSA or did not send students
to the convention.
The survey operationalized this study's major constructs by asking
respondents to respond to 17 interval-level Likert scale statements
and to provide responses to four open-ended questions. Together, the
two sections of the survey attempted to gauge respondents' attitudes
toward and opinions about issues surrounding this study's three
hypotheses. In addition to general questions about gender, age, and
education, the questionnaire asked students to gauge their reasons
for choosing to study public relations, the role of professors and
mentors, whether communication abilities are a function of gender,
and their attitudes toward public relations as a career.
Additionally, a series of open-ended questions probed the students'
views on gender discrepancy in the classroom, as well as their
beliefs regarding the profession.
The survey was pre-tested among a group of 40 male and female
undergraduate and graduate public relations students a southeastern
university. The researcher facilitated an interactive session with
the students to discuss whether the survey questions were clear and
what aspects could be improved. Results from the interactive session
were used to improve the survey before it was administered at the
2004 PRSSA National Conference.
The survey instrument was distributed in print form to a
convenience sample of 125 PRSSA members on October 22, 2004, the
first day of the Convention. Respondents were given 30 minutes to
complete the survey. The questionnaire was collected upon an
individual respondent's completion of the survey or at the end of the
Data from the survey was assessed using SPSS statistical
software. In addition to variable frequencies, bivariate Pearson
correlation coefficients were computed among the data's original
variables in order to determine if there were any significant
relationships between any two given variables. Also, an
independent-samples t test was run to test the difference between the
means of the two genders.
In addition to this t test, a one-way ANOVA test was
conducted with independent age and year in school variables. For both
tests, the ANOVA F test was used to evaluate whether the group means
on the dependent variables differed significantly from one
another. For significant F tests, two follow-up tests, Tukey and
Dunnett's C, were used to evaluate pair-wise differences among the
means, or comparisons between pairs of group means. The researcher
decided which post hoc test to analyze based on the level of
significance of Levene's homogeneity of variances test.
Open-ended questions were collected in a separate database in
Microsoft Word by the research assistant and were analyzed separately
from the quantitative data by the researcher using a systematic data
analysis process. Data were coded and categorized based on patterns
and themes that emerged. The ultimate goal of the analysis of the
qualitative portion of the survey was to obtain and maintain the emic
perspective of the respondents (Daymon & Holloway, 2002).
Of the 105 participants who completed the survey, 79% (n = 83) were
female, and 21% (n = 22) were male. With the exception of four
graduate student respondents, all the students were undergraduates;
24% (n = 25) were juniors, and 64 % (n = 67) were seniors. Almost
50% were either 21 (n = 26) or 22 (n = 26) years of age.
Respondents represented colleges and universities from across
the country, including schools in Alabama, Arizona, California,
Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, South
Carolina, Texas, and Utah, among others. Eighty-four percent of
students (n = 88) were public relations majors. The remaining 14% of
non-public relations majors (n = 15) listed courses of study as
advertising, English, fashion marketing, international management,
marketing, organizational communication, psychology, and speech
communications as their primary majors. Twenty-one percent of
students (n = 22) marked public relations as their second major, with
courses of study as broadcast, business communications, English,
fashion merchandising management, history, marketing, mass
communications, political science, public speaking, Spanish, and
theater as their other majors. Only 5% of respondents (n = 5)
indicated that they were pursuing a minor in public relations.
Public relations and gender in the classroom. Ninety-two percent of
respondents (n = 97) answered affirmatively that women outnumber men
in their public relations classes. There was a correlation between
males' responses and this statement that was significant, r(103) =
-.21, p < .05. Likewise, the significant independent-samples t test,
t(103) = 2.13, p = .035, showed the same relationship. In response to
open-ended questions, many students who answered that women
outnumbered men in their public relations classes admitted that they
were "unsure," had "no clue," or had "no idea" why that is the
case. A significant number of respondents attributed the gender
imbalance to the fact that women outnumbered men at their college or
university or in the communications department specifically.
Attractions to public relations. Ninety-one percent of
respondents (n = 96) marked that they agreed or strongly agreed that
public relations is an attractive subject to study in school because
the coursework is interesting, and 90% agreed (n = 46) or strongly
agreed (n = 48) that public relations is attractive because the
coursework is enjoyable. Sixty-six percent of students (n = 69)
either strongly disagreed or disagreed that public relations is an
attractive subject to study because the coursework is less demanding
than that of other subjects.
Interestingly, subjects disagreed or strongly disagreed to
the influence of peers (72%), professors (54%), or internships (50%)
on their decisions to pursue public relations. However, pedagogical
style did affect the respondents' decision to continue studying
public relations; 52% of students agreed or strongly agreed to the
influence of professors' teaching methods.
Role models and mentors. Sixty percent of respondents (n =
63) indicated that they do not consider themselves as having a public
relations mentor. Of the 38% (n = 40) who indicated that they do
have a mentor in public relations, 32% (n = 34) noted that their
mentor is one of their public relations professors. Other categories
like colleague from work, family member, peer, or public relations
classmate received fewer than 5% of the responses. According to the
significant independent-samples t test, t(103) = -1.17, p = .024,
more women indicated that their mentor was a colleague from work,
meaning an internship or full- or part-time employment. Of the 38% (n
= 40) who indicated that they do have a mentor in public relations,
19% indicated that their mentor was male, and 21% indicated that
their mentor was female.
Yet, students were fairly neutral and somewhat divided in
their responses to the statement that their mentor(s) are extremely
influential in their making decisions about their future. Thirty-one
percent of students indicated a neutral response (n = 32), while 15%
strongly disagreed (n = 16) with this statement, 28% agreed (n = 29),
and 17% strongly agreed (n = 18).
In general, responses were split in answer to the statement
that female students are influenced by female role models and
mentors, while male students are influenced by male role models and
mentors. Roughly 25% of respondents strongly disagreed (n = 27), 25%
disagreed (n = 25), 25% were neutral (n = 22), and 25% agreed (n =
24) with this statement.
Fifty-three percent of students indicated that either one (n
= 19), two (n = 19), or three (n = 18) of their public relations
classes have been taught by women, while 52% of students responded
that either one (n = 26), two (n = 14), or three (n = 15) of their
public relations classes have been taught by men. Only 6% of
respondents' classes (n = 7) have been co-taught by male and female
Interpersonal communication and gender roles. While 27% of
respondents strongly disagreed (n = 29) with the statement that women
are better suited to practice public relations than men, 24% agreed
(n = 26), and 31% indicated a neutral response (n = 32). The
correlation between gender and women as being better suited to
practice public relations was significant, r(103) = .27, p <
.001. The independent-samples t test that evaluated the three
hypotheses echoed this finding, indicating that more female
respondents agreed that females are better public relations
practitioners. The test indicated statistical significance, t(103) =
-2.78, p = .006. In addition to these findings, there was a
significant correlation, r(103) = -.30, p < .001, between age and
this statement, indicating that younger respondents were more likely
to agree that women are better practitioners.
Almost 50% of students either agreed (n = 38) or strongly
agreed (n = 13) with the statement that women are better
communicators than men. Thirty-three percent either strongly
disagreed (n = 13) or disagreed (n = 22) with this statement, while
18% indicated a neutral response (n = 19). The significance of the
independent-samples t test, t(103) = -4.72, p = .000, indicated that
more females than males agreed that women are better communicators
than men. Interestingly, there was a significant correlation between
age and this statement as well, r(103) = -.30, p < .001, indicating
that younger respondents were more likely to agree with this
statement. A similar finding, that significantly more underclassmen
(18 and 19 years of age) than graduates agreed that women are better
communicators than men, was reaffirmed by the one-way ANOVA F test,
F(2, 102) = 3.34, p = .036, where the independent variable was age.
In response to open-ended questions, most of the respondents
speculated that "women are more attracted to PR because they are able
to use creativity and communications in their work, areas in which
they excel" and "women appear more caring therefore…they have
successes in PR." Other respondents noted that "women enjoy
interaction and event planning" and "are more organized and like
planning 'fun' things" than men, and that "men want to do other
things than build relationships."
A noticeable number of students responded that men major in
business, specifically marketing or management, or in
engineering. "I believe men choose marketing courses more often,"
one female noted, "because it is perceived as a business subject and
taught at the business school." Meanwhile, one respondent touched on
the nebulousness of public relations that might be a turn-off to men,
stating, "I don't think men really understand what PR is about."
Many respondents noted that men might also be turned off by
the fact that financial rewards are not necessarily a guarantee in
public relations. "I feel that PR may not be a field where you make
a huge amount of money, and men feel pressure from society to be
successful," one respondent noted. Also, some respondents wrote
that PR is seen as "stereotypically a girly subject" and a "feminine
profession" or "woman's job." One female respondent wrote, "I think
that developing relationships and planning events seems [sic] more
like a 'girly' job, and men are afraid of how they will be
received…like a 'party planner.'" She added, "The men that are in my
PR classes are interested in advertising and more 'manly careers.'"
Public relations as an accommodating career. An overwhelming 93% of
respondents either agreed (n = 40) or strongly agreed (n = 58) that a
career in public relations seems like it would be fun, and 60% of
students either agreed (n = 30) or strongly agreed (n = 32) that it
would offer flexibility. Forty-five percent of respondents indicated
a neutral response (n = 47) to the statement that public relations
professionals make more money than people in other journalism
careers. The independent-samples t test, t(103) = 1.87, p = .029,
affirmed that fact that significantly more men agreed with the
statement that public relations professionals make more money.
In open-ended responses, men and women had different rationale for
their interests in studying public relations. Female respondents
listed a variety of reasons, including the fact that they enjoy
writing (but not news reporting), dealing with people, public
speaking, and the idea of "providing a service to a client." Many
women remarked that public relations "seems fast-paced" and exciting,
offering flexibility as well as room to advance. Women also noted
that public relations offers creativity and a diversity of areas
within the field to pursue, a characteristic they did not find in
traditional broadcast or print journalism. "I enjoy the coupling of
creativity and organization," one female senior noted. Meanwhile,
another female senior wrote, "I have always wanted to go into some
type of marketing, and I like more hands-one rather than the business
aspect" that public relations offers. Public relations "doesn't
require a lot of math and science skills, and it's fun," stated a
The male respondents had some differing reasons. Two male
respondents remarked that they are studying public relations "to
round out [their] business education" and as "a way to improve my
skills." One senior male wrote, "I realized how much power and
influence one can have in the area of PR," while another senior male
noted, "I wanted to protect reputable companies from predatory
media." One junior male wrote, "I realized that I have good skills
in communication and was interested by the ethical aspect of PR as
well as the broad opportunities it offers."
Working in public relations. Eighty-four percent of students (n =
88) answered affirmatively that they are planning to pursue a career
that involves public relations. Of these respondents, most indicated
that they wanted to work for a public relations firm or agency (n =
80) or in corporate communications (n = 54). Respondents were
allowed to check more than one category of interest, but
interestingly, the categories of nonprofit communications (n = 25),
government/public affairs (n = 23), independent consultancy (n = 15),
and start your own firm or consultancy (n = 22), each received fewer
than 25% of responses. Other categories listed by respondents
included pursuing public relations careers in the entertainment,
event planning, fashion, health care, music, sports, travel, and
The independent-samples t test, t(103) = -2.33, p = .024,
showed that significantly more women responded that they are
interested in the nonprofit sector. Meanwhile, there was a
significant correlation between men and responses to
government/public affairs, r(103) = -.24, p < .05; and a significant
correlation between men and responses to independent consultancy,
r(103) = -.26, p < .001). According to the one-way ANOVA F test,
F(2, 102) = 3.81, p = .025, where the independent variable was year
in school, significantly more graduates than underclassmen and
upperclassmen responded that were interested in government/public
affairs. Meanwhile, the one-way ANOVA F test, F(2, 102) = 7.28, p =
.001, where the independent variable was age, indicated that more
underclassmen than upperclassmen responded that they would like to
start their own firm or consultancy.
Eighty-three percent of respondents (n = 87) answered
affirmatively that they are planning on having a family, but
interestingly, 59% (n = 61) indicated that are not planning on
quitting their careers to raise children. More precisely, 68% of
male respondents (n = 15) marked that they are not planning on
quitting their career, while 55% of female respondents (n = 46)
indicated the same response. Thirty-one percent of total respondents
(n = 33) were unsure. Thirty percent of the students (n = 32) who
plan to have a family indicated that they thought they would leave
their career temporarily to raise children with the intent to return
to their career pursuits.
There were mixed feelings expressed in comments made to open-ended
questions about career flexibility and family matters. One female
respondent noted, "I think women today are more ambitious than they
have ever been….Therefore, family matters and thoughts about having
children, and leaving my career for them, has been something to think
deeply about." Another female respondent, though, made the comment
"I think a career in PR could be flexible if you own your own agency
or are very high up on the 'totem pole.' It would be a very
demanding career and possibly would be difficult to have a family."
DISCUSSION OF RESULTS
While findings indicated that students are influenced by role
models, especially professors, specific findings from the survey's
quantitative statements and questions failed to support the first
hypothesis, which stated that female students pursue public relations
because they are influenced and inspired by female role models and
mentors. It appeared, rather, that for the 38% of students who
responded that they have a mentor in public relations, the gender of
mentor was not significant factor. Likewise, findings from the
qualitative questions designed to test the first hypothesis indicated
that female students have both male and female mentors and professors
they consider to have been influential in their decision to pursue
Findings from the quantitative and qualitative statements and
questions supported the second hypothesis, which stated that female
students are attracted to the field of public relations in part
because they believe that its emphasis on interpersonal communication
naturally fits their gender roles. Both correlations and
independent-samples t tests indicated that more women agreed that
women are better suited to practice public relations and are better
communicators in general. Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of men
strongly disagreed with each of these statements.
Data from the survey indicated that both genders disagreed
with the statement that their public relations coursework is less
demanding than that of their other classes, negating any assumption
that students choose public relations because it is an easy course of
study. Instead, a large proportion of both male and female
respondents noted that they find public relations coursework
interesting and enjoyable, and likewise, both genders thought of a
career in public relations as being fun.
Lastly, findings supported the third hypothesis, which stated
that female students pursue careers in public relations because they
perceive the profession as a flexible and accommodating
career. While quantitatively 58% of women agreed or strongly agreed
that public relations seems like a flexible line of work, many of
these women expressed in their responses to qualitative questions
that public relations also seems demanding, high-powered, and
flexible only after years of "paying your dues." It is worth noting
that, in general, findings indicated that while nearly half of total
respondents agreed that public relations seems to be an accommodating
and flexible line of work, 35% were unsure, reflecting the mixed
perceptions both male and female students have of the public relations field.
In terms of answering why women are more attracted than men
to the field of public relations and why it is they continue to
dominate in number the study of public relations, clues from data
suggested reasons men might be unattracted to public relations. Four
reasons emerged from the study: First, survey respondents perceive a
certain degree of ambiguity associated with public
relations. Because public relations does not have one definition by
which it is known, the profession carries with it a stigma of being
somewhat nebulous in nature. In other words, the very nature of
public relations might be a turn-off for males. Existing literature
on gender research suggests that women are more apt to deal with
ambiguity better than men (Grunig, Toth, & Hon, 2001). Second, public
relations was not perceived as offering guarantee of status,
financial rewards, or recognition for one's work. Although male
respondents perceived public relations jobs paying more than other
journalism positions, salaries are not perceived as comparable to
other professions, which men may prefer. Third, this study identified
a feminine stigma attached to public relations, from which men might
shy away. Male respondents admitted to perceiving public relations as
a "women's job." Female respondents to one of the open-ended
questions noted that men might be afraid of how they will be
perceived if they pursue public relations. It was suggested that
"men want to do other things than build relationships" and plan
events. Finally, male students may not be attracted to public
relations because there may be fewer role models suggesting to young
men to pursue a career in public relations straight out of college.
Additionally, both quantitative and qualitative data from the
survey indicated that students perceive public relations as being a
broad career, applicable to many areas of expertise, and providing
skills that one can carry to many other professions. The fact that
public relations is an accommodating profession that allows its
practitioners a great deal of creativity is another reason why women
might be attracted to it. Besides being broad and portable, public
relations was also perceived as being accommodating and flexible,
which may be another reason why, despite the inequalities women face
in the professional world of public relations, female students
continue to be attracted to public relations and dominate in number
public relations classes. Data from the survey indicated that while
nearly half of the total respondents agreed that public relations
seems to be an accommodating line of work, women in particular
perceived the profession as being flexible. Qualitative responses to
open-ended questions also reflected that women felt public relations,
while demanding, is likely to be more flexible than a career in
traditional news-editorial journalism.
In general, though, women's reasons for being attracted to public
relations included the fact that it is a profession for which they
feel well-suited, allowing opportunities for relationship building,
interpersonal communication, and creativity. Also, women shared that
they were attracted to public relations because it is a broad,
portable career path that allows opportunities for advancement as
well as flexibility for family demands.
Over the last 20 years, a wealth of research has been devoted
to issues surrounding gender and pubic relations. Practitioners and
researchers alike have expressed concerns about the increasing number
of women in public relations. In particular, a plethora of research
has considered the gender discrepancies evident in the professional
world of public relations and their implications for the profession
in general. While much has been written about the inequalities women
face due to the gender imbalance, with the exception of general
feminist literature, little research has been conducted at the
undergraduate and graduate level within colleges and universities to
investigate the question of why so many more young females than males
are attracted to the study of public relations. Also the question as
to why, given all the inequities women face, women continue to pursue
public relations as a professional career had, until now, yet to be explored.
Findings from this study contribute to the body of scholarly
knowledge by exploring students' reasons for studying public
relations. As suggested by the literature, public relations has been
one of the few professions that has been "opened up" by women.
Findings from this study confirmed that women, who are socialized to
be more expressive and nurturing, are well-suited to public
relations, as it is a career that focuses on the building and
maintaining of mutually-beneficial relationships. Findings also
indicated that females perceive public relations as being a
well-suited career for women given that it is flexible and
accommodating, offering women the ability to balance career and
family demands. It is worrisome, however, that female college
students may not be aware of the inequities women face in the
professional world of public relations. It is important that public
relations professors who have had experience in the field share with
their students the negative, along with the positive, aspects of
their experience, so that students will not remain ignorant of any
discrepancies and obstacles existing in the professional world.
Another implication of this research is that there seems to be a
shortage of mentors to young men, perhaps explaining the gender
imbalance among public relations students. It is worrisome as well
that there exists an imbalance among the two genders, as public
relations is supposed to represent various publics, not just female
consumers. "If we're called in by a client to influence behavior,
our input should come from a group of people balanced by gender,"
said Harold Burson, founder and chairman of Burson-Marsteller, in a
2001 article by Rick Hampson appearing in USA Today (p. B6).
Thus, colleges and universities should recruit experienced
public relations professionals of both genders to teach public
relations courses. Schools should also develop mentoring schemes to
match students with practicing professionals in the real world on a
semester basis. This practice would allow students to have the
opportunity to shadow a professional and get a taste of what the
world of public relations is like outside of the classroom.
Further research is needed. To address the fact that survey
findings are based on self-reporting data by participants, engaging a
random selection of survey respondents in follow-up, in-depth
interviews, might offer further insight into why women pursue public
relations in the classroom and as a career. Also, further research
might be conducted among practitioners in the public relations field
and among students not pursuing degrees within a journalism school
setting in order to offer greater insight from professionals and
students who may be able to add another perspective regarding why
women and men tend to be attracted to different subject areas and careers.
It is worth noting that few authors have considered how the
public relations profession is well-suited to women, and even fewer
have expressed concern that we might be ignoring the positive
contributions women have made on the profession. Much of the
existing literature addressing the effects of the feminization of
public relations is largely negative in tone, rather than suggesting
a promising take on the issue of gender. In other words, while the
increase of the number of women has been seen by some as harming the
profession, few authors have considered how the influx of women has
helped the profession. Further research that would provide valuable
information to the both the professional and academic worlds of pubic
relations should focus on considering the promising aspects
surrounding women as the future of public relations. While this
particular study fulfilled its goals of considering why students are
pursing public relations as a course of study and as a career to
pursue, further research should focus on the positive contributions
of women in the field, emphasizing how women may well be better
suited, naturally, to practice the profession. Young practitioners,
from the moment they enter their careers, could, armed with this new
body of literature discussed in their public relations classes, lobby
for public relations at the management table and seek to regain the
functions' credibility for the profession's sake.
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